More thoughts on composers
Everyone’s been chiming in on composers. I compiled the feedback from Facebook, Twitter, and this post, and it yields a very interesting list. Here, in no particular order, are the names that have been mentioned: Osvaldo Golijov, Ricky Ian Gordon, Adam Guettel, Thomas Ades, John Adams, Arlene Sierra, Jennifer Higdon, Elliott Carter, Kaija Saariaho, Unsuk Chin, Heiner Goebbels, Pascal Dusapin, Thom Yorke, David Lang, Daron Hagen, Louis Andriessen, Michael Daugherty, Hans Werner Henze, Dan Deacon.
We all know the label of “composer of the decade” is kind of meaningless. One commenter over at Sequenza 21 (Andrew Violette, a composer himself) opined that we haven’t heard of this decade’s composer yet because he hasn’t been played enough. It’s certainly true that there may be people who are remembered in 30 years from this decade whom we don’t know about yet, but I intended my question differently: who’s the composer who actually had the biggest impact, made the biggest strides, left the biggest mark on the decade? (Not that I said that explicitly when I framed the question.)
(read more after the jump)
My personal taste would lead me to Andriessen, Henze, or Steve Reich in a heartbeat. And I can see the case for Elliott Carter, whose 100th birthday was definitely a decade-worthy Event (though I think the question of Carter’s actual influence or impact remains open. I’d be glad to hear contrasting views on this). I’d say that of these, Reich had the biggest actual impact on the last ten years. I also considered making a general case for the “class of 37/38”-- this decade saw a wave of much-feted 70th birthdays: Reich, Glass, Tower, Harbison, Del Tredici, Wuorinen, Corigliano. (Martin Bresnick, whose 60th was celebrated with some fanfare this decade, wryly said recently that he kept encountering people who thought he had turned 70 instead.) But I still think the biggest impact of most of the abovementioned composers came earlier.
I was intrigued to see Ricky Ian Gordon and Adam Guettel cited. Both certainly had major works out this decade, with Gordon’s Grapes of Wrath (a work I intensely regret having missed; I was taken with the CD) and Guettel’s Light in the Piazza. Neither, alas, has yet succeeded in redefining the Broadway musical in the way people were hoping they might (along with Michael John LaChiusa) at the start of the decade; but compelling music theater is something that a lot of opera houses struggled to find over the last ten years.
The implicit classical-music-world blinkers one dons in asking such a question was revealed with the name Thom Yorke; Radiohead certainly had a huge influence on all strains of music in the last ten years. [Edited to add: Chris Richards, the Post's pop critic, avers that Radiohead makes great-sounding music but he's getting tired of their message or content. His point touches on one divide between so-called classical music and so-called pop music: classical music is often apprehended, by those who write about it, as being all about the sound, and any social message is often treated as subsidiary to how the music is actually put together. But that's a can of worms for another post.]
As for the idea that the artist of the decade is as yet unrecognized: it’s certainly true that the music we hear in the standard classical music world -- especially from orchestras and chamber ensembles -- is only a fraction of what’s being written, and perhaps not the best representation of the real creative energies that are brewing out there. Writing for an orchestra is a very particular activity: John Adams has embraced it; Steve Reich decided it really wasn’t for him. This is one reason I’ve been so happy with the so-called alt-classical movement: I believe it involves more composers actively involved with the production of their own work, bypassing the standard wait-for-a-commission route entirely, and getting the music out there for us to hear. I hope the hands-on approach continues to grow in the next ten years. It certainly makes for a lot of stimulating variety. But for the time being we can only judge by the composers we know. I also think that whenever those unknown geniuses do emerge, they are seen to have the biggest effect on the decade that hears their music, rather than the decade in which they wrote it.
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